Salads (as we know them) were not common to the New Mexican diet in the 1940s, but Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert created healthy salad recipes comprised of native greens and dressings with spices and chile to appeal to the palates of the communities she served during her in 30-year career as an New Mexico Cooperative Extension agent. Try this watercress salad and red chile oil dressing adapted from the recipe in her book The Good Life: New Mexican Traditions and Food.
Watercress is a cruciferous, wild green that with bit of a spicy bite that tastes similarly to a radish. You might find watercress at your local farmers’ market and it also grows in high mountain streams in New Mexico. Serve this salad with Carne Adovada for a full Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert meal.
3 cups watercress
3 cups mixed salad greens
½ yellow onion (thinly sliced)
8 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp onion juice (or ½ yellow onion and 3 tbs water to make your own)
4 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar (can substitute with honey or maple syrup)
1 tsp chile powder
1 tsp tomato sauce
- Combine the olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, onion juice, salt, sugar (sweetener of your choice), minced garlic, chile powder, and tomato sauce into a jar.
- To make your own onion juice, put half of an onion (cut into wedges) in a blender with a few tablespoons of water. Blend into a watery paste and strain into a small bowl or jar with a sieve, cheesecloth, or paper coffee filter to have onion juice with no pulp. Slice the other half of the onion thinly to serve with salad.
- Tightly close the lid and shake the jar thoroughly until the dressing is blended.
- Wash watercress, greens, and vegetables. Roughly chop 1 cup of watercress and reserve another cup of sprigs (stems and leaves) for texture.
- In a large bowl, combine chopped watercress, sprigs, and mixed greens of your choice.
- Top salad with sliced onions and other locally grown vegetables from your farmers’ market, farm stand, grocery store, etc. Red bell pepper and cucumber were used in this recipe, but you can add any fresh produce or nuts like pecans, piñon, or pistachios.
- Drizzle the dressing onto the salad, toss, and enjoy! To keep leftovers fresh, keep the salad and dressing separate until you are ready to eat again.
Recipe adapted from The Good Life: New Mexico Traditions and Food by Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert. Adaptation and photos by Alison Penn.